Chair DeLauro Statement at House Wellness and Office of Employee Assistance (OEA) Hearing

2021-02-18 10:36

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to join you. I do want to recognize Chairman Ryan and Ranking Member Herrera- Beutler. Looking at what you’ve done in the past, it didn’t take the chaos of January 6 or an insurrection for you to understand the needs of, whether it is Members, or Capitol Hill police, or employees, no matter who it is that works within the Capitol to understand that wellness is critical. That a person’s environment is critical, and their mental health needs are as important as their physical needs. So I thank you both for you emphasis in this area. And thank you to Mr. Weiss and Mr. Tewksbury. We thank you for being here to testify. I am so proud to join with you because, as I understand it, this is the first Congressional hearing dedicated to an open conversation about mental health in Congress.

This subject is so critical, especially now. In the midst of the constant and relentless heartbreak of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are still reeling from the events of January 6 – when the cradle of our democracy was viciously attacked. I won’t tell my story but I was in the gallery and evacuated. We keep reliving that day in so many ways.

When a mob of violent protesters stormed our Capitol, five people lost their lives and many more were hurt. Many sustained serious injuries: head trauma, facial injuries, even losing fingers.

But the physical wounds sustained that day are only part of the story. From custodians to Congressional staffers, Capitol Police, and contractors, there is not one person who works on Capitol Hill who has not been touched by the events of that day. In the aftermath of this tragedy, a Capitol Police officer and a District of Columbia Metropolitan Police officer have died by suicide. Others on the force have turned in their guns, they’ve turned in their guns, for fear that they might hurt themselves.

And even as we continue to work in a place now surrounded by fencing and protected by the National Guard, the nearly 30,000 employees who serve in the Legislative Branch have been working around the clock to serve the American people. Support staff, many of whom are people of color, cleaned up the Capitol complex, just days after a noose appeared on the Capitol grounds and white nationalists waved Confederate flags.

Meanwhile, our district and our constituent service staff have been pushing themselves to the limit as they work to meet the increasing needs of those affected by the pandemic. One of my constituent service staff said that this past year has “felt like drinking from a firehose while in freefall.” For many staffers working directly with constituents, the panic and desperation from those seeking assistance, compounded with the personal fear of getting sick or losing loved ones has taken a very deep emotional toll.

In turn, the Office of Employee Assistance, OEA, and the House Wellness Center has also been working nonstop to meet the increasing emotional needs of those who work on Capitol Hill.

As we celebrate the Congress and its diversity, its strength, all of the opportunities here, the OEA and the House Wellness Center have become a one-stop shop for mental health services on the Hill.

These are essential resources for the Capitol Hill community, and it is critical that we provide them resources to support the well-being of all who serve here.

This is a hearing that is a long-overdue step in the right direction, but it is important for all of us to talk to each other, to check in, and to cultivate a more free and open dialogue about the importance of mental health.

And just make people understand that they are not alone in the feelings that they have and in fact yes, there is a place we can go for help, and the resources are there. I thank you for this opportunity.

117th Congress